Why Measure Community Well-being?

by mcassidy@ruralontarioinstitute.ca 13. May 2016 10:25


Hidden Homelessness in Rural and Northern Ontario

by mcassidy@ruralontarioinstitute.ca 4. May 2016 13:57

The Rural Ontario Institute has commenced a research study to explore hidden homelessness in rural and northern Ontario.  The study will identify promising local strategies that are responding to this issue and will include interviews with individuals with “lived experience” of homelessness in rural and northern settings. The project is being sponsored under the Province’s Municipal Research and Analysis Grant.

A research team has been formed which will review current homelessness strategies, talk to service managers (Consolidated Municipal Service Managers and District Social Services Administration Boards) and  service providers and interview individuals who have experienced homelessness in rural and northern settings.   Members of the research team include the Project Manager Fay Martin, Carol Kauppi of Laurentian University, Bill O’Grady of the University of Guelph, Rebecca Schiff of Lakehead University and Petra Wolfbeiss from the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association.  Read the full communique about the project here

Communique - Approved for Release.pdf (308.70 kb)


Moving Ahead on Rural and Community Transportation by Laura Schreiner

by info@ruralontarioinstitute.ca 2. May 2016 13:31

How can rural communities make public and community transportation work?

 This was the question on everyone’s mind at our recent forum, Moving Ahead on Rural and Community Transportation, on March 29, 2016 in Sutton Ontario. Over 100 participants from municipal governments and organizations, NGOs, private transportation companies, and the provincial government came together to share experiences from rural communities across Ontario and beyond. Read more 

Moving Ahead Sutton 2016.pdf (522.43 kb)

Community Oxford teams up with ROI

by mcassidy@ruralontarioinstitute.ca 6. April 2016 13:25

Watch as Dean Anderson, Chair of the ROI Board and Sam Coghlan, Member of the Advisory Committee launch a collaboration with Community Oxford. (scroll to 4:50 minutes into the video)


Community assessment projects like the Community Oxford initiative are just one way ROI is engaging rural stakeholders through our Measuring Rural Community Vitality initiative. For more information about Community Oxford visit here http://www.communityoxford.ca/


Below: Kelly Gilson Co-Chair Community Oxford, Randy Peltz Co-Chair Community Oxford, Sam Coghlan Member Advisory Committee MRCV, Dean Anderson Board Chair Rural Ontario Institute

Cartoon Supports Growing the Conversation on Rural Municipal Leadership Succession

by info@ruralontarioinstitute.ca 17. March 2016 11:49

A cartoon by Dan Hammond in the March 4 issue of the Wellington Advertiser makes reference to the Rural Ontario Institute’s latest report, the Rural Municipal Councillor Profile. While this cartoon is of course tongue-in-cheek, it also supports the principle objective of this overall initiative, to inspire discussion on the important issue of rural municipal leadership succession.

This cartoon has picked up on an important reality of this report – it is no surprise to anyone that councillors across the province are older and more predominantly white men.
In developing this initiative, it has never been our intention to rest on this observation alone. This report looks beyond this initial point of shared understanding, striving to better understand the nuances of these observations. Why do these trends exist, and are they healthy for our municipal political system?

This report looks to inspire conversations around current issues so that we may collectively work towards improvements – improvements we have heard first-hand from councillors, mayors and municipal staff across the province, are much needed.

At the root of all these discussions lie some fundamental questions: are we seeing participation in municipal politics from a diverse talent pool; are there sufficient candidates to foster a healthy, competitive environment in local elections; and how are candidates preparing themselves for their positions on Council?

For example, when we see only 25% elected women in municipal councillor roles across the province and only 23% female candidates, there are certainly opportunities for unlocking this vast pool of highly qualified and talented women to run for future municipal leadership roles.

When we come to understand the statistics and stories shared by all municipal councillors, the real question we should all be asking is what’s next? Where are there opportunities for action? Today we are faced with a collective opportunity for improvement.

Rebecca Johnson, a councillor in Thunder Bay and co-chair of the group “Women In Politics” has seen the same results and has shared some further thoughts from her perspective.

“It is 2016. Women make up 50% of the total population and should make up 50% of all levels of government. And when we recognize these great imbalances that exist in our government, we recognize an opportunity to take action. Thunder Bay “Women in Politics” was formed in 2013 to address this very issue, and has seen success.  In the 2014 municipal election, our City Council had more women running than ever before, and our council composition increased by one woman.  In the federal election we had more women running in the three Northwestern Ontario ridings and elected one woman. Government elected officials should represent our diverse community of peoples, by gender, ethnic origin, colour, age, disability, race, creed, family status.”

This report has been clear from the outset that it strives to engage a dialogue around these common challenges facing municipal leaders.  There is a great opportunity for the Wellington Advertiser to join in this conversation - they would be a tremendous partner in facilitating the discussion around strategies to address the ongoing challenges and opportunities of rural municipal leadership succession.

The full report is available here.

The associated infographic is available here.



The Force Is With Us

by mcassidy@ruralontarioinstitute.ca 18. February 2016 10:08

A week ago on February 9th I was in West Carleton to kick-off our newest community collaboration. Here is what Julie McKercher the Community Developer on the project had to say about how this all came about;

“It came to my attention through the Councillors office that clergy from around the area were asking questions about how the aging communities of West Carleton could be better supported. I could go on, but suffice it to say that with funding for evaluation, the United Way happy to see my gaze turned towards the needs of rural seniors and caregivers, and with partnerships flourishing with key community organizations, the synergies were and continue to be strong on a number of fronts. The force is with us, as it were, and planets seem to be aligning.” Julie McKercher, Community Developer

ROI has long recognized aging populations in Ontario’s rural communities as an important issue. Anyone involved with volunteer services knows that seniors typically make up the largest component of their community volunteers. The contribution these volunteers are making to the well-being of our rural communities is acknowledged but not always fully appreciated. Our recent Focus On Rural Ontario fact sheets examined this in some detail:

“These fact sheets illustrate the wide spectrum of activities and causes non-metro (i.e. rural) residents care about, from sports and recreation, to arts and culture, to affordable housing or to health services and faith based institutions. Volunteers noted many reasons why they volunteer. The top reason 91% of non-metro volunteers said they were doing so was in order to make a contribution to their community. Volunteer energy is highly local. And it doesn’t stop at formal organizational volunteering since two thirds of volunteers also care for someone directly or help out others with household tasks. All together the evidence is strong that rural citizens belong to and contribute to caring, giving communities.” Norm Ragetlie, Director, Policy and Stakeholder Engagement

On the same day, Feb. 9 Trent University announced that Dr. Mark Skinner was appointed New Canada Research Chair to make Trent University (Peterborough) an International Leader in Rural Aging.

“Professor Skinner, a leading international authority on the evolving role of voluntarism in aging rural communities, will receive a total of $500,000 over five years to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities of aging in rural and remote regions of Canada, and to help create supportive environments for healthy rural aging. The issues associated with Canada's aging population are more acute in rural areas than in urban centres," said Professor Skinner in explaining the importance of his community-based research. "Rural communities have higher proportions of older people, they are considered underserviced in formal services, and they rely more on volunteers and informal types of care."

As Julie said, “The force is with us, as it were, and planets seem to be aligning” and the Rural Ontario Institute is pleased to help tell the story of how our rural communities are helping create supportive environments for healthy aging.


Youth Engagement Showcase Finalist: Megan Raftis

by Rural Ontario Institute 28. January 2016 12:14

Megan Raftis grew up in Harriston, Ontario, a small rural community of about 2,000 people located in Wellington County. Megan is active in the local arts community through her involvement as local youth representative on the Minto Cultural Roundtable where her experience and age provide a unique perspective to this committee. This group supports culture in the community and Megan has been active in helping with storytelling events, culture days and a variety of other activities.

We’re bringing cultural events to town, highlighting those that already exist and opening them up to more people. I like the idea of highlighting culture in small rural communities. It’s not necessarily the first thing you think of when you think of rural Ontario, but there are definitely unique opportunities worth pursuing and worth bringing to wider rural audiences. I just like the idea of opening that side of the town up to more people

It is Megan’s specific interest and experience in theatre, that has inspired her to bring new youth programming to Harriston, contributing to a more inclusive and vibrant community and filling an existing void. Megan has been volunteering her time with the Harriston summer youth theatre program for 5 years.

In communities like Harriston, organized recreational opportunities for young people outside of competitive sports are often limited, but thanks to Megan, there is now the opportunity to join another kind of team. Having been introduced to theatre at an early age through her family’s involvement with the local community theatre, Megan Raftis set out in the summer of 2010 at the age of 19, to deliver the same type of fun and enriching experience she grew up with, to local youth. Already an experienced performer and veteran backstage hand, Megan decided to cast and direct a production involving exclusively youth actors.

The response was overwhelming and, with some assistance from her mother, an actor, director and president of the Grey Wellington Theatre Guild (GWTG), she put 19 actors onstage, ranging in age from six to 16, drawn from five surrounding communities, in the quirky David Mamot comedy Revenge of the Space Pandas.

With another extremely positive strong response and favorable reviews from both participants and parents, Megan set out the following year to make this experience accessible to even more young people. By writing the next play herself, Megan was able to tailor the cast size to the number of youth who had already auditioned. The 2011 production of Amy May Runs Away provided 24 young actors and actresses the opportunity to learn about stagecraft and experience the thrill of live theatre. Writing the plays also solved another problem, namely the lack of good scripts written specifically for youth casts and particularly large casts.

I grew up in the theatre but I don’t sing a note, and so there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to be on stage as a kid. I like the idea of bringing opportunities to a wide variety kids who aren’t necessarily musically inclined. I cast large plays and I tailor them to the cast we get at auditions.

Megan has since written the script for each succeeding production, and the continued growth keeps Megan busy writing and re-writing the plays to ensure there are enough parts available. The goal is to provide a theatrical experience for as many youth as are interested. Through Megan’s work, she has created new opportunities not only for youth in Harriston, but far beyond, where interested community theatres may now see opportunity in performing their own stagings of her scripts.

As the young actors have so enthusiastically enjoyed their experiences in theatre, they continue to return year after year. Since its inception, many parents have expressed their gratitude to Megan and the guild for providing a creative outlet for children who have sometimes struggled to find their niche. Creating access to opportunities in theatre has been important for many local youth, as it gives them a chance to have fun, while gaining self-confidence and skills that can be transferred to so many different aspects of their lives.

When they first arrive, many are quiet and shy, so you can put them in smaller roles; you build their confidence to the point where after a couple of summers they’re the stars of the show. And you see this when you see the kids out in the community too.  Many of the kids from summer theatre have auditioned to be ambassador for the local fall fair; I know there are some who wouldn’t have had the confidence, or even thought they would enjoy something so public and performance based.

Through these theatre productions, children learn how to work as a team, the importance of commitment and hard work and the benefits they receive as a result. Many of the children have gone on to become involved in other theatre productions or have used the skills to help other younger children in a leadership or mentoring role. The youth theatre program has proven a boon to both the participants and the guild, which now has a steady supply of local young people growing up with interest and experience in the dramatic arts.

Youth Engagement Showcase

The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in a short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.

Youth Engagement Showcase Finalist: Branden Trochymchuck

by Rural Ontario Institute 26. January 2016 15:25

Branden Trochymchuk has been described by colleagues as an intelligent, articulate, well-rounded, and driven young man who embraces life and constantly challenges himself to learn and grow. Branden is 16 years old and attends Grade 11 at St. Ignatius High School in Thunder Bay and spends summers in the Township of Hornepayne, 450 km northeast of Sault Ste. Marie.

Branden is involved in a wide variety of different programs and organizations, volunteering much of his time outside of school. Branden is one of 60 Student Advisors to the Ministry of Education and regularly attends conferences in Toronto to participate in roundtable discussions on various policies or initiatives being developed by the Ministry. As a part of this position he is also the leader for the SpeakUp Forum Student Team at his school, a program created by the Ministry to obtain feedback from students. Branden is a firm believer in strengthening the student voice, and continues to coordinate sessions in schools throughout his region to empower students to get involved in their schools.

Branden belongs to Common Bond, a social justice group at his school where they participate in clothing drives, Christmas Cheer and visit the homeless shelters. Through Common Bond he is also the Catholic Leadership Day Facilitator (an annual event) as well as a Grade 8 Retreat Facilitator. He is the Safe/Accepting Inclusive School Committee Student Rep for his high school and a Natural Helper for the Student Assistance Program. He has taken the Safetalk Suicide Alertness Training and is a Canadian Red Cross Beyond the Youth facilitator. It has always been important to Branden that troubled teens have someone to turn to, knowing that sometimes, kids will turn to a peer before turning to an adult. A big part of this position is being able to direct his peers to the appropriate source of help in a gentle and timely manner. Branden is also a facilitator of Cyber Seniors, a program to help seniors with social media, computers, cell phone usage, etc. To top this all off, Branden now has a part-time job. 

Branden is continually finding new ways to get involved in his local community. With a strong interest in history and politics Branden also has aspirations to one day, serve as a Member of Provincial Parliament. “I just want to make a difference and be an active person in my community”, says Branden. For now, Branden is focussed on school as his top priority but continues to balance a busy schedule, continuing always with his volunteer work.

Youth Engagement Showcase

The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in a short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.

Youth Engagement Showcase Finalist: Emily Morrison

by Rural Ontario Institute 21. January 2016 11:48

Emily Morrison hails from Lucknow, Ontario and currently resides in Beaverton, Ontario – a small rural community nestled in Brock Township, along the shores of Lake Simcoe. Emily’s story for the Youth Engagement Showcase features not only her own involvements in her community, but some of the youth programming she has been instrumental in developing as well – programming that engages youth in the community, while fostering important entrepreneurial skills they will retain as they carry on in their lives.

Emily has a diverse resume, beginning with her roots on the family strawberry farm.  Managing a farm market, interacting with the public and grocery stores, and managing a bakery, all had a significant impact on Emily’s love for entrepreneurship. Building on her experience with the family farm, Emily started a small business while in university running her own ice cream parlour.

I didn’t realize how much the farm was a business at the time. I was born into it and it was my way of life, so I didn’t understand everything I was learning at the time. When I took some business classes in university, we studied things like HR, finance, scheduling and interacting with suppliers – it just hit me that this is stuff I had been doing since I was ten years old, working in the farm market and the family business. I had been doing these almost my entire life.

In 2014 Emily was contracted by the Brock Youth Centre (BYC) to help revitalize the centre and to build a culture of entrepreneurship among local youth. Emily, alongside colleagues at the Brock Youth Centre, has pioneered a hands-on training facility to teach entrepreneurship skills to local youth. In her role, Emily has helped youth to start businesses around photography, metal art, pottery, skateboard lessons, arena concessions and a very successful ice cream store – Cool Cow Ice Cream Parlour. Emily has been able to work one-on-one with local youth to develop cohesive business plans, acting as an advisor and mentor, sharing her own life experiences to inspire and guide them.

The Cool Cow Ice Cream parlour is a tool for the BYC in teaching hands on entrepreneurial skills. The students who have been enrolled in the Cool Cow program have learned human resources skills through coordinating interviews and hiring additional staff as needed. They have gained experience with financial management, inventory control, food handling, scheduling and customer service. Emily has brought in local speakers to help teach the students about topics such as liability insurance, fire safety and health regulations. The students also won a local Economic Development initiative when they presented their business plan to a panel of judges, receiving $4000 for facade improvements for their store.

We now have people approaching us to bring this same model to run concession stands for arenas and baseball fields. Everyone is taking a lot of pride in what we’re doing and this has helped bring a stronger sense of community to the town.

The Cool Cow Ice Cream Parlour has certainly had tangible results throughout the broader community of Beaverton. The building it now occupies had been vacant for seven years. Students have taken time to patch the walls, paint the interior and have improved the streetscape, taking over a side alley to build seating for their clients. This activity along the main street of Beaverton has boosted community morale, and fostered support from other local businesses who have contributed to the building makeover through donations, ranging from paint, to ice cream coolers, to skilled labour

Other store owners will often check in to make sure the kids across the road are ok. I think this project demonstrates that our youth have a value to the community and it has brought kids and adults together. I think the adults in the community have seen how much [these kids] are contributing and building a really successful thing.

Beyond the BYC, Emily continues to be involved in the community in a variety of other ways as well. Emily now sits on the Brock Economic Development Advisory Committee to council, where she can give regular updates on the efforts of the BYC and is now regarded as an important link to local youth and their needs. Emily also helps to organize a number of other community events, from Skatefest, to a local food festival, to the Canada Day planning committee. Emily was also very involved in the last federal election, volunteering her time to help with a local candidate.

More Info: Youth Engagement Showcase

The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in their own short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.

Youth Engagement Showcase Finalist: Eric Duncan

by Rural Ontario Institute 19. January 2016 13:12

Eric Duncan is 28 years old from Winchester, Ontario and was introduced to community service at a very young age. Eric’s family has always been heavily involved in their community, whether through the church, the fire department or their local fair. From the age of 12, Eric remembers getting involved alongside his parents in a variety of different local projects, and he continues to this day with this same dedication to public service. Since he first began getting involved at the age of 12, Eric has sat on roughly 40 different boards and committees. Eric currently sits on 21 different boards and committees.

At the age of 16 Eric began to get more interested in politics and started volunteering for a campaign for a local councillor. When he was 18 there was an opening on Council and, drawing on the experience gained working on this previous campaign, Eric threw his hat in the ring. Having already been involved with council, with an understanding how the local system worked, Eric surprised and impressed many constituents with his ability to intelligently debate and discuss the issues at hand.  Eric was elected to council at 18 years old. Eric later became mayor at 22 years old and is currently serving his second term as Mayor of North Dundas. Further, Eric has been Warden of the United Counties of Stormont Dundas and Glengarry for two years and this year, Eric is also chair of the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus.

Eric has recognized the great opportunity to affect and influence different community betterment projects, stemming from his position as mayor. Eric is particularly proud of some of the accomplishments in economic development in North Dundas. The township has recently hired an economic development officer to help businesses expand and to oversee certain legacy initiatives that will benefit generations to come. Through different grants, they have initiated a community improvement program for revitalizing the downtowns for two local communities and they have worked to update and renew the local arenas and pools.  One major project carried out by the Winchester Downtown Revitalization Committee was the creation of Sweet Corner Park. This project transformed a vacant, gravel lot on the main corner in Winchester into a beautiful park. The project won the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association “safe and healthy community award” in 2012.

Both as Mayor and in his personal time, Eric has been a strong contributor and a valuable asset to his community. His youth and his enthusiasm have been cited by colleagues as a real boost for the local community. Eric is heavily involved (as past president and current executive member) with the Rotary Club in Chesterville and in this role he is often seen at fund raising events throughout the community. Eric spearheads the local Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program (RYLA), a rotary youth leadership event and, alongside a good friend, was instrumental in establishing Camp Erin this past summer. Camp Erin is a bereavement camp for young people in Eastern Ontario, ages 6 – 17, who have experienced a loss in their life.

Camp Erin is important for our community and I’m proud to have contributed to its development. Very often in rural communities we don’t have access to the same kinds of counselling services and people who have the necessary experience working with children who have lost a significant person in their lives.

Camp Erin features grief support and an opportunity for the children to connect through recreational activities and music. Eric was able to enlist other volunteers who were well versed in grief counselling and not only did the children at the camp benefit, but so too did these volunteers.

The local high school recently celebrated a 50th anniversary and Eric was co-chair of the North Dundas District High School 50th reunion weekend celebrations, which raised $20,000 for the school. He continues to be involved with the high school, speaking regularly to classes about civic and governmental issues. Eric was responsible for initiating and promoting an after school recreation program for local youth as he firmly believes in the value of enabling access to healthy recreational programming.

Eric was a founding member of the Nation Valley ATV “Ride for Dad” committee that raises money to support prostate cancer research and awareness. In 2013, Nation Valley ATV Club became the first all-terrain vehicle chapter to start a Ride for Dad rally in Canada. Since then, several clubs have used this model and replicated similar rallies across the country. To date, three very successful local rides have raised over $150,000 for prostate cancer research and awareness.

While Eric has many accomplishments to date, he remains humble and cites the many networks around him as integral to his success, including a group of “second mothers” who have always been there to support his efforts.

More Info: Youth Engagement Showcase

The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in a short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.